How to Scale a Successful Pilot Project

In this class: vocabulary regarding project management / innovation / roll-out / change management

Vocabulary list:

  • Or the like: ou algo do tipo, algo similar
  • Roll out: lançar.
  • Pattern: padrão (a forma como ocorre).
  • Approach: abordagem.
  • Nationwide: no país inteiro
  • Profitability: lucratividade
  • Tracking system: sistema de monitoramento
  • Indeed: realmente, mesmo (usado para ressaltar)
  • Boost: aumentar, impulsionar
  • Leverage: alavancar (tirar melhor proveito)
  • Wide-scale roll out: lançamento em larga escala
  • Spread thin: espalhado demais e não dá conta
  • Relief: alívio
  • Loose: solto (não confundir com perder: LOSE)
  • Peer: colega (pessoas com o mesmo nível social/hierárquico)
  • Spark: despertar, provocar (no sentido de originar)

Now, read the article:

Original source: Harvard Business Review

If you are a leader who wants to introduce major change in your organization — a new technology, process, system, product, partnership, or the like — you’ve probably been advised to construct a pilot project. Its purpose, of course, is to reduce the risk of failure across the entire organization by testing the idea in a small, controlled setting so that you can further refine your solution before you roll it out.

However, while launching and then scaling a pilot sounds like a perfectly logical strategy, there is plenty of evidence that shows that even successful pilot projects often don’t lead to successful scaled implementations. Based on our many years of consulting on large-scale organizational change, and our previous work on why good projects fail anyway, we’ve come to understand the pattern of these failures — and a better approach.

Take a nationwide parts distributor that wanted to increase profitability and thought that a new sales tracking system could help. After extensive research, the company organized a pilot project in one district that gave a few sales representatives a chance to use the software for a quarter. Over that time the reps indeed found that they were better able to sell higher margin products, track their best customers, and utilize data more effectively, all of which helped to boost profitability considerably. Encouraged by these results, the company installed the new system on each salesperson’s devices across the country.

Soon, though, they found that some people resisted using the data when it indicated selling unfamiliar products or prioritizing different customers, others found the technology confusing, and others didn’t understand how to really leverage its capabilities. The result was that many of the sales managers told their people to go back to the old way of working, and overall profitability actually decreased.

What happened? First, there are many reasons that a pilot project can look good. The people chosen to participate are often particularly receptive to trying new things, they often feel they’re “special” for being chosen and therefore work particularly hard (a variation of the Hawthorne effect), extra staff provide training and support, managers are incentivized to make the pilot work, and the usual cultural and administrative barriers to change are temporarily suspended.

But during a wide-scale rollout these conditions no longer exist. Instead, everyone is told to follow specific directions to ensure that the new approach is implemented consistently, training and support are spread thin, there is no relief from other goals, and the change is often viewed as just one more requirement on top of everything else.

The problem runs even deeper, however. Take the parts distributor: The premise of its pilot was to prove that all else being equal, a better sales tracking system would improve profitability. This is probably true — except that in the case of a major rollout, “everything else” is never equal. No two people will use the tool or solution in exactly the same way, nor will they necessarily have the same conditions around them. Motivation, skill, comfort with the old way of working, and a host of other factors become as important in achieving the desired outcome as the tool itself. And in many cases, there are multiple organizations or units, comprised of tens, hundreds, and thousands of people that need to work together in new ways, using the new solution, in order to achieve the desired outcome. No wonder that so many major rollouts fail despite a successful pilot.

But there is an alternative path that leaders can take once they have achieved a successful pilot: As part of scaling the solution, create the conditions that allow individuals and teams to adapt the solution to their unique circumstances and make it their own. Doing so requires encouraging collaboration, behavior-change, and innovation.

More specifically: Rather than telling them exactly what to do, challenge a few front-line teams that represent stakeholders in the system to make highly ambitious progress on key outcomes that you expect the solution to contribute to, in an unreasonably short time frame — 100 days or less. Give the teams some guidance about the extent to which they can modify what came out of the pilot, but otherwise let them loose and see what they can do to generate solutions that they own. As you do this, use the power of peer competition to spark even more innovation. Finally, capture the learnings from each of these 100-day “success experiments” so that teams in the next wave of implementation can start with an even richer menu of possibilities.

Scaling Social Good

To show how this works, let’s look at how the leaders of the 100,000 Homes Campaign overcame the problem when they scaled a successful pilot project to combat homelessness in the United States.

The initial pilot was implemented by a group called Community Solutions in New York’s Times Square to find ways of housing individuals who had been left on the streets the longest. The practices in the pilot included novel ideas such as developing a “by-name list” to organize the outreach team’s efforts so that each homeless person would be known by name and supported as an individual with unique needs, vulnerabilities, and strengths. This pilot program achieved an 87% reduction in street homelessness over four years.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign, started in 2010, aimed to apply these and other successful ideas nationally to house 100,000 of the most vulnerable individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in cities across the country in four years.

By January 2012, two years in, however, things weren’t looking so good. As Campaign Director Becky Kanis-Margiotta said in a New York Times article, “We looked at our numbers and we realized we were on track to be the 30,000 homes campaign.” Kanis-Margiotta and her colleagues had imagined that once communities started using the “by-name list” approach and other proven practices, they would house more people more quickly. This was happening, just not rapidly enough.

In early 2012, Kanis-Margiotta and her team shifted their approach to one that depended more heavily on ideas from the communities themselves. They started by helping communities analyze their own data to understand the local monthly housing placement rates needed to meaningfully reduce homelessness in that area. Then, in May 2012, working with Nadim and his colleagues, the Campaign team created a structure to help enrolled communities accelerate their own progress towards these monthly targets. Each community was challenged by leaders of the various Federal agencies that oversee homelessness programs to create its own 100-day experiment of success, using the proven practices from the Times Square pilot as well as any others that community members were passionate to try.

This modified approach started with a group of four communities and continued over the next two years, with waves of four communities at a time, till more than sixty communities participated in what came to be called 100-Day Challenge Bootcamps.

As these waves unfolded, the menu of practices emerging from these experiments got richer, creating more and more building blocks for subsequent experiments of success. The impact trajectory of the initiative accelerated dramatically, and the goal of enrolled cities housing 100,000 chronically homeless individuals was exceeded in mid-2014. (Of course, the problem of homelessness is far from solved, and many other community-based initiatives were inspired by the campaign and the 100-Day Challenge Bootcamps.)

New Ways to Sell

We’ve also seen this approach of customizing pilots work in corporate settings.  For example, a major pharmaceutical company* that Ron worked with wanted to increase sales of older products that were still valuable to patients but were no longer actively marketed. A few pilots proved that when a country or regional sales team focused a concerted marketing effort on a targeted selection of these older products, they could generate additional sales. So now the company wanted to roll out this initiative worldwide.

To do that, a team at headquarters used the experience gleaned from the pilots to analyze which products each country should focus on and what marketing techniques they should use. When they went to the German sales team to get the rollout started, however, they were told that the chosen products and marketing plans wouldn’t work in the country, and that their salespeople had their own ways of working with customers.

But instead of forcing the team to proceed as planned, or giving up on the rollout, the team at headquarters challenged the German team to build on the lessons of the pilots and tailor them to their own situation in the next 100 days. With that encouragement, the German team decided to focus on a few different products that they thought would benefit patients in their markets and developed tailored materials and processes that would work better for them.

This customization turned out to be successful for Germany very quickly. So instead of rolling out a common, HQ-developed approach, each of the other country teams in the company was challenged to develop its own unique 100-day experiment for selling older products.

Scaling the process through waves of these country experiments and building a common knowledge base of how to make them work eventually generated close to a billion dollars in additional sales over the course of two years — while building the capacity of sales teams in each country to sustain the gains into the future.

Taking this more generative, customized approach to scaling a pilot isn’t as straightforward or fast as just telling everyone to implement a specific pilot-tested solution or tool – but it gives you a much greater chance of large-scale, durable impact.

Practice Your Writing

Have you ever participated in a project at work? Tell us about a project that you have participated and what was your role in the project.

29 respostas para “How to Scale a Successful Pilot Project”

  1. I worked in a big educacional group that changed their academic system; this plataform controlled the ” life” of students. Inicially the new system was testing i a short unit (500 students) and….this system wasn’t good…….so, this project needed be improved.

    1. Hello, Thâmara!

      Wow, it sounds scary that the platform controlled the students so closely!
      I’m happy to see that they’ve decided to improve it!

      Just a few points:
      – initially
      – was TESTED in a SMALL unit
      – needed TO be improved

  2. It’s important to achieve a successful pilot project in any organization. In my last job, the company had a diversified business, such as oil and gas, reniewable energy, shrimp export, mango and grape export, logistics and it was crucial to reduce the risks of failure, testing the ideas in a controlled way, so that is why the leaders could further refine their solution before rolled it out.

    1. Hello, Debora!

      It was indeed very diversified!! From oil and gas to shrimp!
      Absolutely, it’s very important to test the ideas before a wide-scale roll out.

      – That is HOW the leaders (It makes more sense to use HOW than WHY in this context)
      – before ROLLING it out

  3. I’ve never participated in a project yet, but in my company I have a mission: to develop new products. I do analyses in the samples and do comparison with the national products, If necessary I requier modifications untill the sample meet the competitor’s quality. My peer, who is purchaser, evaluate the market checking how many of each product is sold.
    When a new product arrives we roll it out at the same day.
    In addiction, we have a tracking system of our products in case of warranty, recall, etc.
    Basically this is my daily project.

    1. Hello, Lucas
      Thanks for your comment.
      Your job sounds very interesting!

      Just a few points:
      – REQUIRE modifications UNTIL the sample MEETS
      – who is A purchaser (we always need an article before a job/position)
      – EVALUATES (because the subject here is “My peer”)
      – roll it out ON the same day.
      – in ADDITION (be careful!! Addiction = vício, dependência)

  4. Last year, I had the chance to participate in a huge project that was based on isolating one business unit from the others that the company has. It was very challenging because we had to ensure that after the separation all the information was correct as well the system was working perfectly for both sides. My role in the project, among other activities, was to check if the Balance Sheet sum after the division was the same as before the segregation.

    Sentences with the vocabulary:
    – With this pandemic situation, the company’s main goal is to leverage the mask sales direct to customer.
    – We need a strong CEO because the leadership is spread thin.
    – Challenges spark motivation in our sellers.

    1. Hello Larissa,

      What an interesting project! I’m sure it must have been quite challenging.
      In this case you cay say SPIN-OFF. For example:
      “Last year I had the chance to participate in a spin-off project in my company.”

      Just a few points:
      – it’s better to write “all the information was correct and the system was working perfectly on both sides”.

      – mask sales DIRECTLY to the customer (or to the end user)
      – instead of sellers, it is better to use SALES PEOPLE in this context for “vendedor” (who works for a company).

  5. Yes, I worked for a company that decided to take the logistics operation management upon itself, that was previously outsourced. As I worked to one of the stores before, my role in this project was to be the liaison between the stores, the logistics operator, buyers and suppliers, understanding their needs and providing resolution.

    1. Interesting, Patricia!
      How did it go? At the end was it better to handle the logistics operation by itself or it was better to outsource it?

      Just a few points:
      – in this case it is better to use INSOURCE:
      … that decided to insource the logistics operation management that used to be outsourced.

      – as I worked FOR one of the stores…

      1. Hi Ho,
        It was quite challenging, because the company demanded some particularities that was essential to work with a team inside the warehouse to understand all needs and to measure how it was going. For sure this decision was effective and efficient . It was also a great growth opportunity for all.

        Thank so much for your points, I was really confused on how to write it.

  6. I’ve ever participated many times in Pilot Projects at work, for this reason, I can assure you that the article is based on real experiences.

    Hawthorne Effect always happens when you implement a new process/tool to improve the control of the teams.

    In a short time, the productivity will increase and the team will check it is effective or not.

    I really appreciate the approach to implement in waves and customizing the project according to their guesses.

    Certainly, the commitment of the team will be increased and the chance to scale up the project will be highly likely.

  7. Yes. During my career I had a bunch of opportunities to participate and lead a project, such as SAP implementation, new ancilliary obligations, spin-off, Sales Assets, Merge of companies, Finance restructuring and so on so for. I had different roles as well, sometimes as a Key user, project leader or an expertise advisor.

  8. I participated of implementation of SAP billing module’s and this project spent 18 months, and was considered a record. I will describe positive and negative points of this implementation.
    Positive points :
    1) The system became a good tool for customer tracking;
    2) the data has become more reliable;

    Negative points
    First of al it’s necessary working the employees mind, because the productve chain won’t be the same, some departaments could disappear or reduce and others will need manpower.

    After that I don’t know a company which hasn’t an exception, maybe you don’t need to consider in the implementation moment, but remember you will need to treat it and The list of exceptions should be small.

    Conclusion : By the way the changes always search more profitability. The policy makes more money with less resources.

    For me it was a large learning experience.

    1. Hi Luis. Thank you for the detailed comment and for sharing your experience.

      Just a quick tip: to avoid using “of” twice in the same sentence, you can rewrite it like this:
      “I participated of implementation of SAP billing module’s””
      I participated of SAP’s billing module implementation.

  9. First of all, I loved the text and I could take more information about project , I refer to pilot. I’ve never participated a pilot project in a company, but I’ve participated in two of four project in my course at college. In my book, pilot project is essencial to any professional, it can be any department, to execute it.

  10. Yes, in 2011, I ‘ve participated the a project called Continuos improve. This project is applied in areas like production and have to achiev more Quality and productivity.
    On this time I was a Leader this project and my Team were a responsable for results .
    Finally the project it was a Successful, many goals and satisfation of the Customers have been achieved.

  11. Yes, I participated of many project . I was responsible for quality standards for the development of the project. I had to ensure that automotive quality standards and procedures were met.

  12. I worked in a backoffice area so I particpate in all projects by the end, when the company finalized the report, typing and standard it accordingly company rules. Beside that I was responsable for Billings and collections.

  13. I have never participated in a project related to business area.
    In fact, I participated in a school campaign against “Dengue” some years ago ( I worked in a public school as an English teacher with teenagers).
    First, students studied about the disease : its characteristics, symptoms, ways of contagious, prevention and the mosquito.
    After, students did flyers with illustrations and sentences emphasing the importance of taking care of the houses surroundings by not letting standing water in bottles, cans, tires and other places, keeping them always clean.
    Finally, students went to streets to hand out the flyers and raise people’s awareness about the important habits to fight the mosquito.
    My role was to guide the students during the project by trying to awake their interest and participation.

  14. During my career I didn´t attended a big project that I remeber, but, I´ve working with a lot of activities very similar a project, because there are many steps to follow , so, I consider this activities how a project.

  15. During my experience in Oil &gas company, I was voluntary in many projects even with a secretary role.
    However, we needed to contribute to the sustainability and environment and to reach the goals of the offices we started with the reduction of energy with a special lighting system in order to reduce the costs.
    about the environment as well we decided to plant some hundreds of trees in a special area only for this purpose and then to reduce the greenhouse effect. It was amazing to make part of this kind of project.

  16. The content of the article “ How to scale a successful project ‘, it sparks and make us to think about some points, that it should be take in account such as:
     Started a project by testing in a small controlled setting , it can avoid many mistakes and also to get rich the project , because of the test that has been done before the roll it out

    Well successful project in general must be observed the particulary of environment where it will be implemented.

    Knowing that a recognized successful project may not achieve the same result in other organizations, one suggestion it would be offer the main ideia about the project to the team , use the power of peer to spark competition to more innovation , and consequentily to become the project richer e adherent than before .

    1. Very good comment, Virginia.

      Just some corrections in the sentences:

      – Well, a successful project in general must observe the particular environment where it will be implemented.

      – …one suggestion would be to offer the main ideia…

      -…and consequently to enrich the project and make it more adherent than before .

  17. Analyzing our pattern human behave to these day, we can observe the evolution, and transformation human happened when human being felt threatened , improvement wish , necessity, or the like.

    These cause are still the base for any change, then if we were fell uncomfortable with some outdated habit that still happen at company or another environment , we can try to change it, the most important will be good arguments in order to achieve the desired outcome.

  18. In my last job I used a tool that´s promise to automation some audit tests. The system of automation was not roll out so far then sometimes I were in trouble to made it works! By the way I think the most important in a innovation is how can we spark motivation in the staff to boost our results and profitability.

  19. Hello Gabriel, absolutely!!
    Innovation should help make our lives better, right?

    – a tool that promised to automate
    – The automation system hasn’t been rolled out yet
    – I was in trouble to make it work
    – in an innovation

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